Diet to Increase Testosterone
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Testosterone is the hormone that gives men the shape and physical attributes we associate with masculinity, but it does much more than that. Testosterone stimulates the development of the penis and scrotum from the boy to the man, is vital in sperm production, helps to control fat distribution on the body, increases facial and body hair growth, makes bigger muscles, and increases bone density.
Testosterone is the main male sex hormone and it belongs to a group of other male sex hormones known as androgens, which include dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Both men and women produce testosterone and DHEA, but the guys make about ten times more testosterone and about double the amount of DHEA compared to the ladies. DHEA is an adrenal hormone that, if depleted, suggests stress factors are affecting these hormones.
- low sex drive
- difficulty getting and keeping an erection
- decreased bone density
- hair loss
- loss of muscle mass and difficulty gaining muscle
- trouble with memory
- increase in body fat and difficulty losing body fat
Beyond these symptoms, having lower testosterone has been linked to heart disease, greater risk of depression, cognitive problems, metabolic disorders, diabetes and osteoporosis.
Good nutrition is essential because it provides the vital raw materials for the body to make testosterone.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs)
Nearly all vegetable oils have heaps of PUFAs – with the exception of coconut oil, palm oil, avocado oil, macadamia and olive oil, which are all healthy oils.
PUFAs are known to effect hormone levels in both men and women and are unhealthy fats for other reasons such as increasing cardiovascular risk, especially if eaten with sugar (like cakes and pastry). The effects of PUFAs on our cardiovascular system has been discovered to be the real culprit behind clogged arteries, rather than animal saturated fats as once thought.
Trans fats and hydrogenated fats
Trans-fats, another testosterone lowing substance, are a common by-product of a process called ‘hydrogenation’ where liquid oils are made into a solid fat.
Raw oils such as soybean, cottonseed, safflower, corn, or canola oil are used to make spreads such as margarine by passing hydrogen atoms through the oil at high pressure. This turns the unsaturated molecules (liquid) into saturated molecules, making them solid at room temperature. This substance can be commonly found in processed foods, fast foods, cakes etc.
Avoid soybean & flax products
There are many controversial topics around soy consumption, including increasing estrogen and lowering testosterone levels. Fermented soybean products are a better option, or simply avoid them altogether. To keep your testosterone levels normal, you may also want to avoid flax seeds as they have been known to be phyto-estrogenic in nature.
Plastics and cans lined with BPA can inhibit hormones
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical found in plastic products as well as the linings in many canned foods. BPA is known to inhibit sex hormones as well as affect male fertility.
You can find BPA in most reusable plastic water bottles and plastic containers. Look for products labelled ‘BPA-Free’ or use glass containers to store your food. Beware of cooking or microwaving food in plastic containers or washing them in the dishwasher because the heat can release chemicals from the products. However, plastic products labelled microwave safe or heat-proof are acceptable.
Also avoid canned tomatoes and other foods stored in plastic or plastic lined tins. While tomatoes are good for men’s sexual health, tomatoes that are stored in these types of containers may have high levels of BPA.
Other hormone disruptors can be found in pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other environmental contaminants, so choose organic products where possible to reduce your exposure.
Because smoking affects the vascular system and contributes to the clogging and hardening of the arteries, it is a good idea to stop smoking if you want healthy male hormones and to help protect your heart and lungs.
Nicotine acts as a type of estrogen which is not good if you need more testosterone. Talk to your practitioner to get support from this addiction, and refer to the Quit Smoking Diet for further support.
Alcohol can increase estrogen in your body and inhibit testosterone. Alcohol has a detrimental effect on the liver, which reduces the liver’s ability to remove used estrogen from the body. This causes excess estrogen to recirculate and build up, negatively impacting the body’s testosterone-to-estrogen ratio. For further information, see the Quit Drinking Alcohol Diet article.
Other drivers of low testosterone to explore
Factors such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, thyroid imbalances, liver stress, lack of exercise, low muscle mass, inflammation, poor mitochondrial function, dysbiosis, poor sleep or sleep apnoea, stress, low nutrients such as zinc and magnesium, elevated homocysteine and even oral hygiene imbalances like gum disease have all been linked to lowered testosterone levels.
So please discuss these with your doctor and complimentary health practitioner to ensure all bases are covered.
Many different foods can help to boost testosterone levels in men and women such as macadamia nuts, gelatine, Brazil nuts, extra virgin olive oil, raisins, parsley, ginger, raw cacao products, eggs, multi-mineral salt, avocados, mushrooms, meat (especially beef), pomegranates, dark berries, coconut oil, organic nitrate free bacon, onions, garlic and of course…oysters.
Here are some more foods to help boost testosterone levels:
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radishes, watercress, kale, and bok choy, release a phytochemical that helps the body with estrogen metabolism and clearance so your testosterone and estrogen can remain in balance.
When men have a higher ratio of estrogen than testosterone it is usually a sign that testosterone is being aromatized (converted) into estrogen. This is not only bad for your testosterone levels, but it also increases your risk of hormone dependant cancers.
However, if you have a thyroid condition, take care with these vegetables and don’t eat them raw as they are also classified as goitrogens. Lightly cooked is fine in most cases.
Zinc rich foods
Zinc is a mineral that can prevent aromatization of testosterone into estrogen, so it’s very helpful to keep the balance of hormones in your favour. Good sources of zinc are oysters, beef, lamb, shellfish, crab, clams, lobster, mussels, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), spinach, and cashews.
Selenium rich foods
Both zinc and selenium are very important minerals for the body to produce testosterone and for male fertility. Rich sources are found in Brazil nuts, liver, crabs, and other shellfish.
Omega-3 rich foods
Healthy Omega-3 fats reduce inflammation and stress. This is important when looking at hormone health as the body will always produce the stress hormone cortisol over testosterone. Foods that lower stress and cortisol levels will support better testosterone production.
Good sources of Omega 3 fats are fish such as sardines, salmon, herring, mackerel, and nuts like walnuts.
Vitamin D helps to regulate the aromatase enzyme, which converts testosterone to estrogen. Higher vitamin D3 status in men is usually found in those with better levels of testosterone. Because the bio-available form of vitamin D3 is difficult to get from foods, I recommend sensible sun exposure to get adequate vitamin D. If you are very low in vitamin D, then a supplement may be advisable. Speak to your practitioner about this.
Good Saturated and Monounsaturated Fats (the other good fats)
Monounsaturated, saturated, and polyunsaturated omega-3 fats should be the focus of the fats, because the polyunsaturated omega-6 fats can promote inflammation in the body. Inflammation and stress both have a negative effect on testosterone production.
Rich sources of these good fats can be found in organic coconut oil, pasture raised chicken eggs, pasture raised meats, avocados, wild caught fish, olive oil and nuts. These healthy sources of fats are the raw materials for your body to make testosterone and help you to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
While not a food, participating in exercise, dance, weight training and aerobic movements can also help to boost your testosterone levels naturally. Reduction in excess weight has been clinically shown to increase testosterone levels quite substantially.
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
Client name and identifying information changed
Roger came to me aged 48 complaining that he felt that he was getting old before his time. He was unhappy that he had what he called ‘man boobs and girly muscles’ plus his erections were disappointing.
Previously it wasn’t an issue as he wasn’t in a relationship, but he was dating again and wanted to look, feel and perform better.
Roger was what some call a ‘couch potato’ as he spent his days at the computer and evenings in front of the television and didn’t really do much else. His diet needed improvement and he really needed to get out and exercise more. His new love asked him how long he had had breasts, so that was all it took for him to do something about it.
At the first appointment, I organised some tests to see what his hormones were doing. Sure enough his testosterone was too low, estrogens too high, and his estrogen pathways indicated that his testosterone was aromatising (converting) to estrogen, hence his ‘man-boobs’.
I advised him that exercise would help to boost his testosterone, especially weight training, so he promptly joined the gym and started a program with a personal trainer. We also adjusted his diet.
He had been consuming many foods that had an estrogenic effect, apart from being bad for his health. He loved flaxseed crackers and cheese, ate many take-away meals which contained lots of trans-fats, PUFAs and sugar. He also used inferior plastic drink bottles for water which leach BPA’s and to top it off, he drank a six pack of beer most nights.
I suggested if he wanted a six pack, to focus on an abdominal six pack – much better than the sugar, yeast, gluten, and calories from beer – all adding to weight around his belly, breasts, and internal organs such as his heart.
With a new love in his life, Roger was motivated to make it happen. I suggested that he do it primarily for his health as she had already accepted him as he was, but it would be a lovely bonus for them if he was healthier. He agreed.
Roger’s new diet was a balance of good carbs (healthy vegetables including the cruciferous types), moderate protein from red meat (good for testosterone compared to chicken), eggs, nuts, fish, and plenty of healthy fats as well as foods rich in zinc and selenium. He was overweight, so I recommended to avoid grains, dairy and sugar which would also stabilise his blood sugar levels and help to balance his hormones.
Over the next few months, Roger gradually lost weight, gained muscle (thanks to the gym) and his tests showed that his testosterone increased naturally, and his estrogens improved to a normal healthy level.
Because he gained lots of muscle mass while losing excess fat, his weight remained the same and he looked great for it. He told me that all was good in the bedroom (I didn’t ask for details). Roger was happy and I’m sure his girlfriend was too.